Business Relationships, Not Reach in a Post-Social Media Marketing Age

It is tempting to want to expand social media reach, but mere exposure to larger numbers rarely offers a return on investment of marketing costs. In this fragmented media time, brands need to carefully plan for how social media tools strengthen broader business goals.

Take, for example, the opening of the Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Sports Illustrated's wonderful writer Steve Rushin last week noted that generally awful April baseball weather is reason enough to not worry about the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): "You can love spring and baseball without having to love spring baseball..."

As a MLB fan in general, and a Chicago Cubs fanatic in particular, I am willing to sit in the comfort of our warm, dry living room watching the late night West Coast games during the first week of April. The MLB.TV annual fee seems reasonable, as silence enters the room during regular TV commercial breaks between innings. Except for the MLB quiet branding slide, we are spared the other tiresome sales pitches for beer (that we don't drink), auto insurance (that we don't need), and new cars (that we won't buy).

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In the social media spaces, paid sponsored and promoted posts are increasingly invading otherwise carefully curated Twitter and Facebook feeds. Noisy blasts are purchased by brands in search of quasi-targeted reach that truthfully is not much better than the scattershot of TV advertising. Spare me.

This old marketing approach also seems to be reaching into newer social media channels. Social Media Today recently urged, "Snapchat for Business: How to Reach Millennials Through Storytelling," Strategist Carlos Gil wants corporate brand marketing to respond to declining engagement by reaching out to more than 100 million Snapchat users and their billions of daily videos:

...I receive between 800-1,000 views per "snap," which are seen as photos or short-form videos sent via the app. Throughout the course of my day, if I post 10 snaps to "My Story," - a compilation of my content over a 24-hour period - that's 10,000 impressions from followers who are genuinely engaged with my personal brand (para. 11).

Gil's argument is that snaps result in increased YouTube channel subscription, website traffic, and email subscriptions - all within the soon-to-be leading 13 to 34-year-old demographic. Storytelling through 10-second native "micro-moments" (para. 16) seeks to activate influencers and sharing in the promotion of brand activities and events.

The need for interactive content also speaks to the emerging desire of large companies to activate employees and their social networks.

Lenovo, for example, last year launched a company-wide social network to take advantage of the fact that about half of all employees post messages about their employers. Through internal and external public relations content, employees may become PR workforce in extending reach by sharing content with their friends, family and colleagues. Cool stories can serve to boost employee morale, improve company image, and even raise awareness about new events, products, or services.

If reach serves specific business goals, it may compliment broader strategy. If not, storytelling may fail as introducing even more noise within the fragmented social sphere.

Long-term relationship building is the cornerstone of any business and brand. Here, I think more than ever, organic and authentic conversation wins out over forced social media sharing through strategic plans and content management systems.

While the MLB will not move me to go to an April Chicago Cubs game, engaging second screen content may reinforce brand loyalty and later behavior. I don't think any of that is as influential as online conversation with other friends who are fans. Electronic Word-of-Mouth (eWOM) is an extension of what happens face-to-face with our proximate social networks. We share common interests and enthusiasm.

When it comes down to business, use social media when it makes sense to join obvious conversation about new or developing events. Most importantly, keep your eye on the ball (sales). Social media content may help raise awareness and increase engagement - it will take more to convert people into customers.